Home was a horrible place. It wasn’t his home, she made that quite clear very often. He knew it was abusive, but he didn’t know who to tell that to or how to say it.
It wasn’t always physical abuse, but the things she said were always cruel. Sometimes he thought he would rather just be hit than to be called names, insulted, degraded and taunted. He tried his best to be good, but he didn’t even have to do anything wrong.
She loved to make traps out of questions. No matter how he answered them, he was always wrong. He was worse than wrong, really, she always found a way to make him bad. Then she could punish him. He didn’t understand how it made her so happy to hurt him, he just guessed that she was hurting too.
Somehow, she just didn’t want to be happy. She didn’t want to be friends or to have fun. She must have hurt so bad inside that there wasn’t room for anything else. There was so much hurt down inside her that it spilled out of her mouth. He could almost feel sorry for her, but she was just so mean. The way she smiled when she knew that he was hurting proved that she was a bad person.
She would work him with chores all day, telling him the whole time that he wasn’t doing a good job. Then she would make him do it over and over, never telling him what he was doing wrong. She wouldn’t let him watch the television or go outside. He was never allowed in the backyard, that’s where her garden was. If she loved anything in the world it was her garden.
When he had no work to do, she would make him sit quietly in a chair. He could hear the other children in the neighborhood laughing and playing. He wished he could be out there too, but he could only watch the sky darken until she sent him to bed.
He would lay in bed, afraid to fall asleep because if he had a dream it was usually a bad one. Sometimes he would see his mother and sister in his dreams and it always made him sad.
He could remember that day. His mother seemed sad, but she told him they were going to see his grandmother. That had made him happy. He had been happy right up to the accident. He remembered the rain and the squealing tires. There was a big crash, he remembered the big boom sound. Then he could only remember little pieces. There were policemen and firefighters, and an ambulance, but that part was fuzzy.
He saw his grandmother a few times when she came to visit him in the hospital. She tried to tell him about his mother and sister, but she always cried too much to talk. He knew they were gone, but he couldn’t talk either. He couldn’t tell her that he knew. She sounded sick, and one day she just stopped coming. He knew that she was gone too.
Then one day the doctors got excited. They said it was a miracle that he had woken up. He told them that he hadn’t been to sleep, but they laughed and said “You’re okay now!” It was hard to move and he couldn’t walk for a while. The nurses were pretty and nice, and the man who helped him learn to walk again was funny and always made him laugh.
Then he had to leave the hospital. First they put him in an orphanage and he didn’t like it there. Everyone was mean and sad. He thought it was bad there, but then they made him stay with Ms. James. Then he knew what bad really was.
She told him that it was her home and that she was being very good to let him live there. She told him that she was going to heaven for being so good. She told him that he couldn’t go to heaven unless he was very, very good, and probably not even then.
He told her that his mother was in heaven, but she laughed at him. She called his mother bad names and said his whole family was bad. He told her that his sister was in heaven too.
Then she laughed really loud and said his sister couldn’t go to heaven.
She said his sister was worm food.
He cried and she kept laughing, telling him that he was like a little girl. Then she got angry and told him to shut up or he’d be worm food, too. He was afraid, but he couldn’t stop crying so she slapped him until he fell down.
He tried not to cry anymore since then, but she always knew what to say to make him hurt. All he could do was try his best and that was never good enough.
She made him go to church every Sunday. She made him sing, though he didn’t want to. She acted like she was good, but she wasn’t. She used bad words all the time and talked bad things about everyone on the phone.
He wondered who would want to talk to her.
He liked school because it meant he didn’t have to be around her. He liked gym, though he wasn’t very good at it. His favorite was the library. He loved to read and look at the pictures. Once they let him take a book home, but she got mad when he was reading it.
She said it was a stupid book and that he liked it because he was stupid, too. She took it from him and ripped the pages out. He knew it was because he liked it. She told him that she would tell the principal that he had ruined the book. Since then they wouldn’t let him take books home anymore.
Books gave him new things to think about. When he couldn’t have them anymore he was forced to think about old things, things he didn’t want to think about. If he thought about them, he might dream about them, and he didn’t want that.
One night in a dream, his sister cam to see him. At first he just turned away. He wanted to see her, he missed her, but looking at her made him think of all the things he had lost. It hurt more than all the slaps and bad words put together. He was ashamed of it, but all he wanted was to run away, or wake up, even though he knew how rare and special a chance like this was.
He wanted to tell her to go away, but he was crying like his grandmother had, and he couldn’t speak. He hated that he couldn’t talk, it made him angry because he felt so weak. He tried to run away.
He felt her little hand take his.
He fell to his knees and cried harder than he ever had. He thought the tears would never stop. She put her arm around him and gave him a strong hug. In time his tears began to slow but the pain wouldn’t stop. Then he noticed she was crying too, but he understood that she was crying for him because he was hurting so much. She was so brave that it made him brave too.
For a while they just held each other. Then she said, “I know it’s very hard for you right now. I know that you feel alone and everything hurts. You’re not alone, though, even if you can’t see us. We’re with you and nothing can ever take us apart. We will all be together soon, and nothing will ever hurt us again.”
Then she let go and began to walk away. He was sad to see her leaving but she turned back and said, “You are very good and very brave. You make me proud. I love you.”
The next morning, he felt different. He didn’t feel bad and wasn’t afraid. Even when Ms. James tried to trap him, tried to hurt him, it didn’t hurt anymore. When he didn’t cry she got even more angry.
She made him do laundry and made him fold the clothes over and over. He didn’t cry, but she wouldn’t give up. She made him carry laundry stacked up to his eyes, from the basement all the way up to the second floor. When he got to the top, where one of here plants was on the railing, she bumped him into it.
The black soil fell all over the white towels and sheets, and all over the floor. He fell down too and all the laundry was ruined.
She grabbed his arm and yanked him up off the ground. “Look at what you did!” she yelled at him, shaking him roughly, “Look at what you did to the laundry! Look at what you did to my flower! You killed it!”
Still he didn’t cry. “That plant was a living thing and YOU KILLED IT!” she screamed, shaking him harder and harder. “DO YOU HEAR ME?” she squealed.
“No.” he said “You killed it.”
A hateful sneer spread across her face.
“You’re mean to me, too.” he said as her face became purple, “but I forgive you.”
He held up his arms to hold her, but she shoved him back into the railing with a backhand slap. He fell down, tumbling on the stairs like a doll. He was still and quiet at its foot. Though his body was broken, he felt no more pain.
She called down the stairs, but he didn’t move. She thundered down them towards but he was still quiet. “Get up!” she screamed, but he couldn’t. Then she saw his blood.
For a moment, she felt sorry.
Her heart was too mean to feel guilty. She was afraid because she thought the doctors might find more than the fall. Then the police would put her in jail. She got angry again, saying it was his fault. She said she wouldn’t go to jail for him.
She went back upstairs and cleaned up the laundry. In her mind she was making plans, thinking of lies to tell. She looked outside to her garden and thought she knew what to do.
story by Joe Stanley
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